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Owning is So Yesterday: Streams and Clouds Conquer Discs

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
June 2, 2014 Deadline
July 2014 Issue

Owning is So Yesterday: Streams and Clouds Conquer Discs

Almost eight years ago, I sat on the living room floor of our apartment and imported music from our massive compact disc collection into iTunes. The year was 2006, and I had purchased an iPod for my wife. We still use this ancient white iPod in our car, and it works fine.

During my graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, I discovered Cheapo Records. There were two massive Cheapo outlets, one in each of the Twin Cities. The Uptown Minneapolis location offered the best selection of CDs I have ever seen. It reminded me of the glory days of Tower Records and the Virgin Megastores. The St. Paul location, conveniently located near my campus office, was smaller, but still impressive. I bought a lot of music, and imported the discs into iTunes.

Our music library includes 1785 artists and groups. As an example of my compulsive need to own complete sets, we own 58 Depeche Mode CDs, including imports, EPs and the ironically named singles, which include at least four tracks each. Add solo albums and other projects by band members and the number climbs to 82 discs.

Next to our CDs, we have our DVD racks. We own the blockbusters, some classics and a good selection of literary adaptations. Disney dominates an entire section, both their animated and film classics. We’ve resorted to stacking DVDs on top of the shelves.

Throughout our house, we have bookcases double-stacked with books. And still, boxes of “content” remain stacked throughout our house.

A friend who owns a massive media collection informed me that he and his wife were going to sell most of their CDs, DVDs and many of their books.

“We don’t need discs or old books,” he explained. “They take up space and we never use them.”

My friend explained that he listens to CD-quality Internet streams on Qobuz, watches films via Netflix, subscribes to computer books on Safari Books and has found a number of digital magazine services. Older, out-of-copyright books are available through Amazon and Apple as nicely formatted e-books. He assured me, he won’t be missing anything and his wife will appreciate the extra space in their house.

“You can stream anything, or download it from the cloud. Owning discs is so… 1990.”

Like many audiophiles, this collector has owned reel-to-reel tapes, records, cassettes, CDs, Digital Audio Tape (DAT), Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-A for home audio. He probably had an eight-track player and MiniDisc at one time, too.

He can explain, in great detail, why CD quality sound is about as good as any normal adult human needs, and why he still intends to buy the occasional new and used CD for a few more years. He isn’t about to listen to compressed audio in the quiet of his home office and studio. Jazz and classical music shouldn’t be limited to a compressed format, whether it is MP3 or AAC, because the lost data alters the sound, assuming that you have a quality sound system.

Having purchased the same music on various media, my friend is done buying the same songs repeatedly. He is paying a young neighbor to import each music disc in a lossless data format to his media server. His own, private cloud he can access from anywhere with a network connection. The discs will be sold, eventually.

In a few years, all Internet music services will offer uncompressed or “lossless” music streaming, as Qobuz does. There will be no need to buy any CDs for the best audio quality, once iTunes and Amazon add lossless audio, too.

Because iPods and other music players include hardware designed to play MP3 and AAC files, those legacy devices slow the adoption of higher-quality music data formats. However, like the switch from analog to digital television, change will come.

Video is changing faster than audio because there is more demand for high quality content. Streaming movies via Netflix, Vudu, Amazon, iTunes and other services are compressed, like music downloads, to enable the transfer of massive amounts of data. But, if you own the best video hardware and subscribe to the highest-speed broadband data plan, you can download 4K Ultra HD.

I’m certain my wife and I will eventually subscribe to streaming services, too, especially for films we might want to see only once. Our CDs and DVDs might someday be useless, but I suspect disc players will be around for several more decades. Until the drives vanish, I’m keeping the disc collections.

But how, and why, did my friend replace books?

“Tech books have a limited lifespan, and are expensive. Why buy $50 books when I can subscribe to an online library of the best ones?”

Safari Books is a service of O’Reilly Media. For $19.99 a month, you can access ten books or online training courses. For $42.99 a month, you have unlimited access to every book in the O’Reilly library, using an iOS or Android tablet. For a professional programmer, it really is better than physical books.

In time, maybe other publishers will adopt the monthly subscription model. Imagine being able to read any book in a publisher’s library for a monthly fee. I know many science fiction fans would embrace such a service. How do I know? Because some of those same readers are rushing to subscribe to Marvel Unlimited for $99 a year.

Marvel Unlimited offers access to 13,000 Marvel comics and graphic novels. Plus, the online subscription includes special pricing on merchandise and physical collectable issues. The rare comic you can never “own” can still be yours, at least on a tablet with Internet access.

No collector is going to part with a rare book, a rare comic or a rare vinyl album. Collectors, however, are not the majority of consumers. All one has to do is look around to see where large bookstores, music stores and rental outlets used to be. Some of the stores still sit empty.

Streaming and the cloud are winning, whether I embrace the change or not.


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